• Western Sahara will enjoy preferential trade tariffs on its exports to the EU 
  • Origin of products will be traceable 
  • Agreement allows region to develop even before a political solution is found 

On Wednesday, Parliament backed a proposal to lower tariffs in the territory of Western Sahara to the same level as Moroccan tariffs, to benefit local populations.

The Parliament gave the green light by 444 votes to 167 and 68 abstentions, to extend the preferential tariff rates to the territory of Western Sahara after the European Commission and Morocco agreed on a traceability mechanism, which helps define the origin of products exported from the territory. This mechanism was requested by the Committee on International Trade prior to its recommendation for consent.

It guarantees that products coming from the Western Sahara can be clearly tracked, to make sure the benefits of the lower tariffs go to the local population and that they are measurable, a key condition to MEPs’ backing.

Tariff preferences will have positive effect

In the accompanying resolution, adopted by 442 votes to 172 with 65 abstentions, the MEPs emphasised that “the [local] Sahrawi people have the right to develop while awaiting a political solution” on the status of the area of Western Sahara. Preferential trade tariffs granted to Morocco were withdrawn from the territory following a 2016 decision of the EU Court of Justice.

MEPs also point out that the tariff preferences enjoyed by the territory between 2013 and 2016 had a positive impact on the agricultural and fisheries sector, investment in infrastructure, health and education. The non-application of the preferences, on the other hand, would have “adverse effects”, they say.

Next steps

After the Parliament’s consent, the Council will conclude the agreement, which will then enter into force.

Background

The EU and its member states do not recognise the sovereignty of Morocco over the territory of Western Sahara, the legal status of which has been under review by the United Nations since 1988. The EU fully supports the UN’s ongoing efforts to secure a lasting and mutually acceptable solution to the conflict, in what is defined by the UN as a non self-governing territory.

The European Commission liberalised trade with Morocco in 2013, but the decision ended up in court, as it covered the disputed territory of Western Sahara. The Court of Justice of the European Union ruled in December 2016 that no trade agreement could cover Western Sahara unless the people of the territory had consented to it and if the territory was explicitly mentioned in the text of the agreement.